Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 4
31 January 2000

Catherine Lovatt C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
Romanian News Round-up
News from Romania since 24 January 2000

Catherine and David Lovatt

The European Commission has proposed that Romania and Bulgaria should be added to the list of 48 countries which are exempt from the European Union (EU) visa requirements. The EU considers that Romania has made sufficient progress in securing its borders to warrant this exemption. However, Guenter Verheugen, the Commissioner for Enlargement, has warned that Romania still has a long way to go in developing its border controls and in dealing with illegal immigration. "This new situation, which reflects the qualitative leap forward in relations between Bulgaria and Romania and the European Union is a new factor in terms of international relations," says the Commission's document. Representatives of both countries are to meet in Sofia at the end of this week to develop a collaborative approach to fighting cross-border crime and illegal immigration.

A plan for unblocking the River Danube that is agreed to by Yugoslavia has been approved by the Danube Commission. This proposal is to go forward to the European Commission who have agreed to help fund the project. Romania should benefit directly from the re-opening of one of its major trading routes which has been severely disrupted since the Kosovo conflict.

The Foreign Minister, Petre Roman, met with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington on Tuesday for wide ranging discussions. Albright pledged her support for Romania in its progress to join the Euro-Atlantic institutions. She agreed with Roman that Romania should take full advantage of the NATO Membership Action Plan to help the country to make progress in reform programmes for its military organisation and economy. Further discussions took place about the Balkan Stability Pact and Romania's chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which is to begin in 2001. Roman said, "It is with deep optimism and interest that I am looking forward to opening a new phase in Romania's cooperation with the United States." (Nine o'clock 27 January 2000)

Roman is to make an official visit to France at the weekend. A series of meetings with senior members of the French government have been arranged with the purpose of developing and strengthening the special relationship that already exists between France and Romania. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, "The chief goals of this visit are to boost and diversify the Romanian-French dialogue, with an accent on strengthening the political and economic dimensions of the special partnership between the two countries, with the purpose of renewed actions aimed to prepare Romania's integration in the Euro-Atlantic structures." (Nine o'clock - 27 January 2000)

Following a meeting between Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu and Emanuel Yervoudakis the International Monetary Fund (IMF) representative in Romania it was announced that the stand-by loan agreement would be extended until February 2001. Zervoudakis said, "The Romanian economy looks much better, we are sure that an economy growth and a reduced inflation rate will be registered in 2000." (Mediafax 27 January 2000) The meeting examined the effectiveness of the 1999 budget and then concentrated on the budget for this year with particular reference to the governments policy regarding salaries paid to the armed forces. Government spokesman Ionut Popescu said, "The IMF has no specific demands from the Government, but they notice a certain problem, and the options have to be found by the Romanian party. The IMF is expecting for a realistic budget and we want to establish such a budget." (Mediafax 27 January 2000) Government targets for next year are to limit inflation to 27 percent and to stabilise the exchange rate to achieve an average of 20,500lei to the US dollar.

The Prime Minister, Mugur Isărescu, warned all Romanians this week that the reforms that his government were proceeding with would cause hardship. He said that these needed to be faced to achieve the goal of integration into the EU and went on to call on the striking teachers and railway workers to give up their protest action for the benefit of the country as a whole. He said, "By intensifying social pressure one does nothing but ask the government to spend money irresponsibly. Protests can't bring in extra revenues. We don't have the right to miss the chance Romania has got by being invited to start accession talks." (Reuters 26 January 2000) The Prime Minister said that the government was determined to see through their reform programme and that he expected the Romanian people to feel the beneficial effect by the end of this year.

Romanian Teachers took strike action from Monday for four days. Their trade unions called for a minimum basic salary ofUSD 82 per month (approximately double their present earnings) together with an improvement in resources and working conditions. They went on to announce that that if their demands were not met they would begin an indefinite strike on 7 February. Teachers sent a letter appealing for support to interested bodies throughout the country. The letter said, "We are asking for nothing else than the observance of the laws, of the obligations assumed by the agreements and protocols signed with the Government." A reported 85 percent of all teachers in pre-university education are reported to have followed the call to strike from the trade unions. Minister of State, Mircea Ciumara has clearly stated to any striking group that he will not negotiate with them while they are taking action. University trade unions are to decide on the form of action they will take on 4 February.

The Ministry of Education announced on Thursday that it is to take legal action against teachers who are on strike in an attempt to bring the dispute to an end. The Ministry believe that the teacher's trade unions have not operated within the labour laws of the country. Minister of Education Andrei Marga tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister on Thursday following attacks from opposition MPs who accused him of being the cause of the problems across Romania's education system. As yet there are no reports that Marga's resignation has been accepted.

Another group taking strike action on Monday were 3500 lawyers. They stopped working between 10.00 and 15.00 in protest against the increase in taxation imposed on their income and the application of 19 percent VAT to legal fees which, they believe, will discriminate against poorer members of society.

The rail strike which first affected the travelling public for a week in December and began again on Tuesday morning reached a crisis point during the week. On Tuesday a Bucharest Court declared that the action was illegal and ordered the striking railwaymen back to work. Union representatives said, "Even though we question the decision of the court, we have decided to obey and to suspend the strike." (Agence France Presse 26 January 2000)

On Thursday talk of an indefinite rail strike that had been called to start at 19.00 hours was tempered by meetings that were held between leaders of the Federation of Trade Unions in Traffic Management and Trade and Minister of State Micea Ciumara. Trade unions left the meeting prepared to negotiate with the government while Ciumara explained that the rational attitude of the trade union leaders led him to agree taking part in negotiations.

Railway track and overhead power lines were severely damaged when a goods train was derailed on Thursday morning. 20 wagons were derailed between Bucharest and Constanţa when an axle on one of them collapsed. Railway officials say that this accident is one of the worst to take place in the last ten years. No one was injured in the accident.

Snow, blizzards and ice have continued to affect Romania throughout this week. Mountainous regions of Transylvania have been cut off and many main routes throughout Romania have been closed to traffic. Snow clearing operations are continuing throughout the day and night. Power supplies to some isolated regions have been lost with engineers unable to reach the sites to restore the supply, on Tuesday morning 46 communities were reported as being without electricity. RADET, the heating supply company, have said that the heating provided to properties has had to be reduced by 30 percent because of the low temperatures and lack of fuel. The railways are operating a restricted winter timetable but most airports remain open. The docks at Galati and Braila are reported to be totally frozen while the Sulina canal has been closed to traffic. Two men, from Arad and Galati, have been found frozen to death as a result of the extremely low temperatures.

The Ministry of Water, Forestry and the Environment has warned that if the enormous quantity of snow which has fallen over the past few days suddenly melts there will be a danger of sever and widespread flooding. A Ministry spokesperson said, "As the weather will worsen in the south of this country in the days to come, the local authorities have to take measures to clear roads and to warn people against leaving for these areas. But we are warning everybody, the population included, that, if the snow melts suddenly, there is a danger of very large floods. People who have their houses on the banks of some small or large rivers must be warned in time and even moved from these risky areas if need be."

The traffic jams which caused disruption in Bucharest's First and Fourth Districts as a result of the heavy snow falls have had repercussions on the Mayor, Viorel Lis, First District Mayor George Padure and Fourth District Deputy Mayor Alexandru Constantinescu. They have all been fined USD 275 for failing to enforce snowclearing measures. The fines have to be paid from their own pockets.

Senators debated the final part of the property restitution bill on Wednesday. This part of the bill deals with the return of homes seized by the communist regime to their former owners. As with the land and forest elements of the bill the debate did not proceed smoothly. The Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) proposed that any public buildings (schools, hospitals, theatres, old persons homes for example) which fall under the remit of this legislation should remain property of the state with compensation being paid to the previous owners. What this proposal was rejected PDSR walked out of the debating chamber.

At a press conference held on Thursday Victor Surdu, former leader of the Romanian Democratic Agrarian Party (PDAR) informed the media that he was returning to politics as a member of the PDSR. He expressed his dissatisfaction with what was happening in industry and agriculture across Romania and went on to acknowledge the PDSR as the party which will respond to the people's needs. EvZ report sources which suggest that Surdu could be considered as PDSR candidate for the office of mayor in Bucharest.

George Funar, the Mayor of Cluj and general secretary of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) has been restored to office by the Cluj County Court of Appeal. Funar won his appeal on the basis that he had as yet not been found guilty of any crime and therefore should not have been suspended. On January 24 Funar was suspended by the county prefect on the orders of the Prosecutors Office until there had been a ruling made in the lawsuit taken out against Funar by the Alimentara company concerning misuse of his authority.

Prime Minister Isărescu has offered to talk with leaders of the parliamentary parties about issues that concern them On Tuesday Valeriu Tabara, leader of the Romanian National Unity Party (PUNR), took up this offer. Tabara expressed his disapproval of the VAT increases but, in a paper presented to the Premier, went on to propose a range of tax breaks which would support Romanian trade and possibly help to remove the black economy.

On Monday the PRM delegation met Isărescu. PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor made a range of proposals about the government's medium term strategy and discussed the establishment of a National Fund of Assistance for the Poor. He also discussed the election timetable preferring local elections to be held in May with national election taking place in October.

The Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) also took up the Prime Minister's invitation this week. Their delegation was led by Chairman Béla Markó and discussed Romania's medium term strategy, tax reforms and the electoral cycle. Markó suggested that local elections should be held in June and that elections for the presidency and parliament should be held in November.

The first steps towards the founding of a new political party were taken on Friday. Ten members of parliament resigned their membership of the National Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNŢCD). They were joined at their news conference by former Prime Minister Radu Vasile where it was announced that they would form the Parliamentary Popular Christian Democratic Group. Vasile said that this would be a founding element of the new Romanian Popular Party.

Catherine Lovatt and David Lovatt, 28 January 2000

Archive of Catherine Lovatt's articles on Romania and Moldova


Sources:

Evenimentul zilei / EvZ online

Moniturul

RFE/RL

Reuters

Mediafax

Agence France-Presse

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